An astronaut crash-lands on a planet where apes rule over humans. Film fans know the story from the 1968 sci-fi classic; and now director Tim Burton brings his unique vision to a film adapted from the novel by French author Pierre Boulle. Alan Silverman has a look at the new Planet Of The Apes
Blasted far off course by a galactic storm, astronaut Leo Davidson finds himself among humans enslaved, kept as pets and hunted by the talking apes, chimpanzees and orangutans that are the planet's dominant species.
Charlton Heston was the marooned space traveler in the first Planet Of The Apes and he has a clever cameo in the 2001 version. This time, Mark Wahlberg stars as the astronaut and says he didn't think too much of the original, at first. "I wasn't a huge fan," he says. "I had seen it when I was a kid, and then in preparing for this role I went back to watch it and was pretty amazed at how great it was and saw why so many people loved it so much. But when I was a kid, me and my dad were too busy watching gangster pictures to worry about some gorilla on a horse with a gun."
The 1968 film and its four sequels made a huge impression on director Tim Burton who considers it a modern mythology. "I dealt with this before doing 'Batman' but not quite to this level, because 'Batman' didn't have an iconic movie to go along with it as this one does," explains Mr. Burton. "So that is daunting, but knowing that it wasn't a re-make, I felt it was okay to do a different take on it, true to the overall spirit of it. For instance, keeping apes performed by humans. That was crucial to keeping the spirit of it for me," he says. "Even when I was 10-years-old and didn't know anything about movies, I knew and got excited about knowing they were actors. There's something weird about humans playing apes; It's that weird kind of reversal on itself."
Helena Bonham Carter plays the human rights advocate chimpanzee Ari; and she explains that all the actors in the vividly realistic simian make-up created by Oscar-winner Rick Baker, learned about their characters at "ape school."
"It was very serious," explains Ms. Bonham Carter. "We spent weeks just to learn how to walk and they explained the basic anatomy of apes and how they're different from humans. It was all very scientifically-devised, so they worked out a walk from that saying 'okay, your legs are much shorter, you're going to be sort of knees bent, flat feet, bottom in, neck out, much longer arms....and just general sniffing and tasting things, being much more curious. You'd have to do all this without looking completely stupid," she adds.
Co-star Tim Roth manages to look completely frightening as ape army general Thade who bitterly hates the humans. "I wanted him to be at this side of the room and then fly across open space and have an emotional exchange that you don't see in the process and be completely different by the time he arrives at the other side of the room," says Mr. Roth. "Then he's unpredictable and you're scared of him. You don't know if he's going to eat you...because he might."
Like the original film, the ending is startling and full of mystery; director Tim Burton says that's the point. "I look back at the overall material from the book to all the movies and that's part of the dynamic and the structure of Planet of the Apes. What's beautiful about it is that it puts a symbol to the unanswerable questions: Where do we come from? Are we moving ahead? Are we moving back? Are we evolving?" he explains. "Darwinism versus religious beliefs...all thos things [are] heavy duty. In all the movies you never quite know where you are and it's sort of... life turning around on itself. That is, I think, inherent to the material."
Planet Of The Apes also features Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti and Estella Warren. The musical score is by longtime Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman.